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Fall Dinner for 6

When I am planning a dinner party with friends and aiming to create a memorable experience, I begin the process at least 3 days ahead. Designing the menu with guest preferences in mind, shopping for most of the ingredients and preparing dishes in advance makes this kind of entertaining possible. For this menu, the soup, potato cakes and ice cream were all made in the days leading up to the party. Instructions are also given here for preparing some of the main course early in the day to reduce time in the kitchen after the guests arrive.

Blini with Crème Fraiche and Salmon Caviar
Roasted Butternut Squash and Fennel Soup
Steamed Smoked Sablefish with Herb Horseradish Sabayon
Potato Cakes, Swiss Chard and Chanterelles
Rustic Plum Tart with Plum Ice Cream

Blini with Crème Fraiche and Salmon Caviar
1/2 T. quick-rise yeast
1/4 c. warm water
1/2 c. milk
3/4 c. flour
1 large egg yolk
pinch salt
pinch sugar
3 T. melted butter
1 large egg white
1/3 c. crème fraiche
1 small jar salmon caviar
parsley or dill, to garnish

Proof yeast in warm water for 5 minutes. Put the yeast mixture, milk, flour, egg yolk, salt, sugar and melted butter in a blender or food processor. Turn machine on and off, scraping down the sides, until mixture is very smooth. Pour batter into a bowl, cover loosely and set in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Beat egg white until stiff and fold into batter.

Heat a heavy skillet and brush with butter. Drop teaspoonfuls of batter into hot pan. Turn when first side is lightly browned and cook briefly on second side. Arrange on a platter and top with a small spoonful of crème fraiche and a sprinkling of salmon caviar. Garnish with parsley or dill.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Fennel Soup (adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)
1 butternut squash, about 1 lb.
1 large bulb fennel
2 T. olive oil
1 T. fennel seeds
2 T. unsalted butter
1 c. sliced onions
1 T. fresh thyme
1 dried arbol chile, or chile flakes to taste
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. Sherry
5 c. chicken or vegetable stock, or water
candied pumpkin seeds (recipe below)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Remove the peel and cut squash into 1″ cubes. Cut the fennel bulb into similar sized pieces. Toss the squash and fennel with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place vegetables on a baking sheet and roast about 35 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized.

Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat until they release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar, or between sheets of waxed or parchment paper.

Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter, and when it foams, add the onions, crushed fennel seeds, thyme, chile, bay leaf, 1 t. salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft and starting to colour.

Add the squash and fennel, and stir to coat with the onions for a minute. Turn the heat back up and pour in the Sherry. Let it reduce for a minute or two and then add the stock. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Purée the vegetables, reserving some of the stock until you see how thick the soup is, adding more stock as needed to produce a thick, creamy soup.

Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with candied pumpkin seeds.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds
1/4 t. cumin seeds
2 t. unsalted butter
1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1 T. sugar
generous pinch each of cinnamon, paprika and cayenne pepper
1 t. honey
pinch salt

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat until the seeds release their aroma and are lightly browned. Pound them coarsely in a mortar. Melt the butter in the cumin pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and sugar, then sprinkle the spices and some salt over them. Toss the seeds to coat them well in the butter and cook a few minutes, until just after they begin to pop and colour slightly. Turn off the heat and wait 30 seconds. Add the honey, tossing well to coat the seeds. Spread on a plate and let them cool. Pumpkin seeds can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and kept in a covered container.

Steamed Smoked Sablefish and Potato Cakes with Herb Horseradish Sabayon (adapted from John Bishop’s cookbook Simply Bishop’s)

Tarragon Reduction
1/2 c. tarragon vinegar
2 shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme

Combine tarragon vinegar, shallots, garlic and pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add white wine and thyme, and continue simmering, uncovered, until reduced by half, for another 5 minutes. Strain and cool. This can be made ahead, and kept in a covered container.

6 smoked sablefish fillets, about 4 oz. each

Place fish in a large frying pan and season with pepper. Add enough cold water to cover fish, place a tight-fitting lid on the pan, and bring to a simmer on high heat. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 minutes. (I brought the water to a simmer, then covered the pan and put it in a 400ºF oven for about 10 minutes while I cooked the sauce and vegetables.)

1 recipe tarragon reduction
3 egg yolks
1 t. creamed prepared horseradish (or freshly grated horseradish)
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
2 T. chopped chives
2 T. chopped parsley

While the fish is cooking, combine tarragon reduction, egg yolks and horseradish in a stainless steel bowl. Place the bowl over hot, but not simmering water, in a saucepan on medium heat. Whisk mixture until light and fluffy and hot to touch, 4-5 minutes. Whisk in butter 1 T. at a time until it is all incorporated. Season with salt and stir in chives and parsley.

To serve, remove fish from pan and blot with a paper towel to remove excess water. Place fish on top of Swiss chard and potato pancake, drizzle sauce around the plate and garnish with chanterelles.

Potato Cakes
2 lbs. russet potatoes
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 T. parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
1/4 c. vegetable oil

Place whole unpeeled potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer about 15 minutes, until potatoes are partially cooked. Drain, cool for about 20 minutes and peel. Grate potatoes and mix with green onions and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Shape into a log 4 ” in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, cut into 1/2″ slices. Heat 2 T. oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat, and fry pancakes, three at a time, until well browned on both sides and cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side. (I browned the cakes earlier in the day and then reheated them on a baking sheet in the 400ºF. oven just before serving.)

Swiss Chard
2 bunches Swiss chard, cleaned, centre ribs removed
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a large sauté pan over high high. Tear the Swiss chard into large pieces. Add 3 T. oil to the pan and stir-fry the greens, seasoning with salt and pepper, until the greens are just tender.

1/2 lb. fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper

Clean mushrooms. Heat a frying pan with oil over high heat. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper, and fry until lightly browned. Remove to a small baking dish and reheat in the oven along with the potato cakes and fish.

Rustic Plum Tart with Plum Ice Cream
Here is a comforting tart, adapted from Epicurious making use of the prune plums available in the Fall, but one that can be varied with other fruit such as apples and pears all year round. I used more plums and so I have adjusted a few of the ingredients listed in the original recipe.

1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3 T. ice water

2 lbs. plums, halved, pitted and cut into wedges
6 T. sugar, divided
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 T. flour
2 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten for glaze

1/4 c. apricot jam

Blend flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add butter and turn machine on and off until mixture looks like coarse meal. Remove mixture to a medium sized bowl. Add ice water, one tablespoon at a time, blending quickly with a fork, until the mixture just comes together as a dough. This may take more than 3 T. but will depend on the flour used. Be careful not to add too much water or the pastry will be tough. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss plums, 4 T. sugar, cloves and cinnamon in a bowl. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12 1/2″ round. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet. Mix 1 T. sugar and 1 1/2 T. flour in a small bowl; sprinkle over dough, leaving a 2″ plain border. Arrange plums in concentric circles on dough, leaving 2″ border; drizzle with melted butter. Fold dough in toward the centre. Brush border with egg glaze and sprinkle with 1T. sugar. Bake tart until plums are tender and crust is golden, about 45 minutes.

Stir apricot jam in a saucepan, or place in microwave, to melt. Brush over plums. Cool tart 1 hour on baking sheet. Using a tart pan bottom, transfer tart to a serving plate.
Makes 6 servings.

Plum Ice Cream
Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts
3/4 lbs. soft ripe prune plums
1 c. whipping cream
5/8 c. sugar
2 egg yolks
vanilla to taste

Wash the plums, cut them in half and pit them. Crack 4 or 5 of the pits and reserve their kernels. Cut the fruit into 1/2″ slices and put them in a saucepan with 1/4 cup of water and the reserved kernels. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until the plums are tender, about 15 minutes. Purée plums in a food processor or through a food mill. Boil 1/2 c. of water and 1/2 c. of sugar for 5 minutes, then add it to the purée. Chill thoroughly.

Warm 1/2 c. of the cream with the 5/8 c. sugar in a heavy saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Whisk the egg yolks just enough to mix them and pour in a little of the warmed cream mixture, stirring. Return to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the spoon. Add the remaining cream and the plum purée and chill thoroughly. Add a few drops of vanilla and freeze according to the directions with your ice cream maker.

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